SITL, Part 3: After Multiculturalism: The Politics of Race and the Dialectics of Liberty
Back in March 2008, I began a series that I modestly entitled, "SITL" or "Sciabarra In The Literature." As I explained in the first installment:
It is very fulfilling to find one's work discussed in the works of others. Since the publication of my "Dialectics and Liberty" trilogy, which includes the books Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, there have been a number of books that have been published that examine my ideas from a variety of perspectives.
Today and over the coming months, I hope to turn some attention to discussions of my work that appear in the literature. For me, it will provide an opportunity to delve more deeply into some of the ideas first presented in my trilogy. Readers will note that these blog posts will be preceded by the abbreviation: SITL ("Sciabarra In The Literature").
Today, especially today... when this country finds itself on the precipice of what could be a titanic discussion of the relevance of race and racism ... I turn my attention to one of the most important books on the subject that I have ever read: After Multiculturalism: The Politics of Race and the Dialectics of Liberty, by John F. Welsh (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2008). Before delving into this book, I must note that Welsh audited one of my "Dialectics and Liberty" cyberseminars some years ago; his acquaintance with dialectical methodology, however, long precedes his engagement with my work. He published an article, entitled "Reification and the Dialectic of Social Life," in the Spring 1986 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Ideology, and another essay of his, entitled "The Unchained Dialectic: Critique and Renewal of Higher Education Research," appears in the 2007 volume, Neoliberalism and Education Reform, edited by E. Wayne Ross and Rich Gibson (Hampton Press).
I provided a blurb for Welsh's new book, which appears on the book's back jacket; here is what I said:
John F. Welsh provides a comprehensive survey of libertarian and individualist thought on race and multiculturalism. Examining such thinkers as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Lysander Spooner, Albert Jay Nock, and Max Stirner, Welsh's provocative book demonstrates the analytical power of dialectical-libertarian perspectives. Exploring multiple, interconnected levels, Welsh offers a fundamentally radical critique of racism in all its guises, while challenging current models of thinking on this volatile subject. This is truly a much-needed addition to the growing scholarly literature.
Welsh opens his superb book with the following important observation:
Contemporary theory and policy discourse on race and racism in the United States are dominated by collectivist principles that entail a fundamental contradiction: Racism historically required and continues to require state power for its implementation, but the prevailing interpretations and challenges to racism are those that also foster collective social identities and seek to influence and direct the use of state power in the interests of particular racial and ethnic groups. (p. 1)
Welsh not only critiques racism, but also the multiculturalist perspective through which most contemporary discussions of racism are often filtered. He aims to move the discussion toward a more dialectical orientation. He argues that "[s]ocial reality ... is the result of [a] dialectical process in which people actively create the social world and are created by it." As such, he traces the interconnections between racism and the multiculturalist paradigm; he sees each as a mirror image of the other. For Welsh, multiculturalism (which "expresses the idea that concepts of identity, community, and political legitimacy are rooted in and ultimately constrained by race and culture," p. 2), in its opposition to racism, "reproduces significant features of racist theory and practice" (p. 12). Because multiculturalism mirrors the very phenomenon it ostensibly opposes, it is not likely to "promote the types of actions and changes that are necessary to overcoming racism in American society." By contrast, Welsh promotes "individualist and libertarian ideas [that] offer important contributions toward the realization of a social world free of racial domination" (pp. 2-3).
This is crucial to Welsh's thesis:
Racism is a statist ideology in that it requires political authority, power, law, and public policy to enforce the domination and subjugation of racial, ethnic, and linguistic groups. (p. 15)
Given the current statist context and historical conditions, and the statist influence on interpersonal and cultural dynamics, it is no surprise that those ideologies that have developed in the struggle against racism are themselves by-products of racism. As Welsh maintains:
Multiculturalism is also a statist ideology in that it looks to the state, public, and institutional policy and enforcement mechanisms to ameliorate, rectify, or eliminate forms of prejudice, discrimination, and violence. Multiculturalism's vision for responding to coercion against disadvantaged social groups is the acquisition of state power and the application of its coercive resources to assist them and defeat their enemies, all of whom are presumed to be racists. ... Multiculturalism is a statist ideology because it looks to the state for the solution of all critical social problems; like racism, it reveres the acquisition and exercise of state power. (p. 15)
In his development of his own highly dialectical mode of analysis, Welsh examines racism from a variety of vantage points and levels of generality; he sees reciprocally reinforcing interrelationships among racism, collectivism, cultural relativism, statism, tribalism, and determinism. He presents a theoretical perspective that expands "the dialectics of liberty." In rejecting racism as disease and multiculturalism as antidote, he argues that it is essential "to explore what individualism and libertarianism have to offer to those who are interested in reconstructing social life without racial and ethnic domination."
Welsh surveys the various critiques of racism offered by such theorists as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, the individualist anarchists, and Max Stirner, among others, en route to defining a fundamentally radical dialectical-libertarian framework for interpretation, analysis, and praxis. He makes clear that the framework owes much to Sciabarra's work. Welsh writes:
In his book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism, Chris Matthew Sciabarra outlines a philosophic perspective that seeks to integrate or fuse the basic elements of libertarianism with dialectical social theory. Total Freedom develops many of the ideas that Sciabarra initially presented in his studies, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and Marx, Hayek, and Utopia. Sciabarra's basic argument is that there are some important points at which dialectical and libertarian theory converge. Total Freedom is particularly eloquent on the points that dialectical thinking does not, by necessity, result in the collectivist and statist utopias attributed to Hegel and Marx. In fact, if the understanding of dialectics is expanded and traced back to Aristotle, the compatibility between dialectics and libertarianism becomes more apparent. In Sciabarra's formulation, dialectical analysis transcends antagonisms between nations, races, and social classes, and is applied more broadly to include the conflicts between the market and the state, cultural ideals and social practices, and the self and other. ... (p. 19)
Sciabarra provides a compelling argument that dialectical social theory should be freed from its Marxian fetters. ... Sciabarra articulates a dialectical libertarianism as an integrated political philosophy that is distinct from other political perspectives, but every bit as comprehensive in its depiction of political sovereignty and legitimacy. ... Sciabarra envisions a tri-level model of power relations that emphasizes the reciprocal impact of each level on the others and opposes the isolation and abstraction of one level from the others, except for the purpose of analysis. Ultimately, each level cannot be extracted from the whole. (p. 20)
Welsh uses the tri-level diagram I first presented in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, and through which I first explored Rand's own radical critique of racism (see especially Chapter 12 of that book, pp. 343-48; see also "Dialectics and Liberty," as a .pdf document). The tri-level model of social relations is expanded further in my book, Total Freedom (see Chapter 9, especially pp. 379-83). Welsh labels it "The Dialectical Libertarian Framework of Power Relations in Society":
Welsh summarizes this tri-level perspective, in the context of his central topic:
Level 1 (L1) refers to power relations as they are viewed from the perspective of the ethical and cognitive behaviors of the individual. When L1 is brought to the foreground of analysis, the focus is on the importance of individual and interpersonal ethical and cognitive behaviors that promote or challenge racism and alternatives to it. Level 2 (L2) refers to the analysis of power relations from the perspective of culture including language, values, norms, and ideology. When L2 is brought to the foreground of the analysis of racism and alternatives to it, the focus is on cultural traditions and ideologies that either promote, perpetuate, or challenge relations within and among ethno-racial groups. Level 3 (L3) refers to the structural level of the analysis of power relations from the perspective of political and economic structures, processes, and institutions. When L3 is brought to the foreground of the analysis or racism and alternatives to it, the focus is on laws, taxes, programs, and politics that either promote, perpetuate, or challenge racism. From Sciabarra's point of view, the dialectical libertarian framework requires an analysis and attack on the realities of racism at all three levels. He emphasizes the organic unity of the dialectical libertarian framework by quoting Rand's dictum that intellectual freedom, political freedom, and economic freedom are mutually dependent and mutually reinforcing. One cannot exist without the support of the others. (p. 22)
Welsh, however, extends the tri-level model significantly, and in this regard, his expansion is a worthwhile contribution to the literature. "Drawing from the framework Sciabarra developed," Welsh presents "the basic elements of a dialectical libertarian approach to the critique of racism and multicultural thought..." Methodologically, he emphasizes the "conflicts and antagonisms in theory and society," the statist mechanisms of "force and fraud," the importance of viewing social reality and social relations "in historical or processual rather than static terms," the distinction between the human and the natural sciences, and the "search for the sources of, and obstacles to, individual freedom" as the "goal of inquiry" (pp. 22-23).
By the time he reaches the conclusion of his brilliant work, Welsh presents us with a provocative comparative analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches he has surveyed throughout his book: Objectivism (Rand), Anarcho-Capitalism (Rothbard), Libertarianism (David Boaz, James Bovard, Charles Murray, Robert Nozick), Individualist Anarchism (Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Albert Jay Nock), and Dialectical Egoism (Max Stirner). He summarizes the ways in which each perspective conceptualizes social relations on each of the levels of the tri-level model. We are left with a feeling of theoretical promise: That a "balanced assessment of the five perspectives" can yield a powerful research programme with revolutionary implications.
I do not recommend this book simply because Welsh's approach owes an intellectual debt to my work. I recommend it because Welsh is at the forefront of dialectical-libertarian scholarship. He is at war not only with racism and its mirror-image in multiculturalism, but with the kind of one-dimensional thinking that makes postracial, postethnic social change impossible. Welsh has provided us with a highly original, integrated, radical framework for the critical understanding of the social phenomenon of racism, and the means by which it can be vanquished.
There are many more installments of SITL coming soon; stay tuned. For now, get this book. Read it. You will not be disappointed.
Noted at L&P.